Letter from Birdland: Appreciating all we have planted
In Birdland, the summer is sliding down the other side of its peak with more cool mildness. We can feel the autumn coming as school looms ahead with a bittersweet transition as our last little bird prepares to fledge.
Ellis takes off today for his graduation trip — a week with his brothers in Seattle. He just did the math for me, and it seems that the day he returns will be move-out day.
I have seen this coming from a distance and have been trying to prepare for a few years. Band camp, his trip to D.C., any little absence gave me practice for getting used to a quiet house. "This is what it will be like," I would tell myself. And now, here it comes already!
It's not that I don't like the quiet. I know myself. I will keep busy. But I also just love having my little guy around, flopped out on the couch with his computer, keys clicking. I go about my business, but then I'll walk through the room and he'll turn the screen towards me, offering a chance to play his newest game, the one he's been coding himself. Cubes rotate on the screen or blinking lines chase each other around in geometrical patterns.
Or he'll be in the kitchen trying out recipes he looked up with his phone. Just last night, he made an aromatic lasagna. It was delicious, but I also know he is test-driving his kitchen skills so he can do his own cooking.
This week, we went on a family outing to call on a new friend. Bonnie is a reader who invited me to visit her farm outside of Rantoul. She wrote that we are kindred spirits, and after a tour of her farm I can see why.
We parked next to her experimental straw bale garden. She had tomatoes, cucumbers and squash growing from a row of rectangular bales. Marigolds brightly bordered the foot. She had read about this method and thought she'd give it a try.
Next stop was an outbuilding with a nice stand of hollyhocks lined up against the wall. Most were past their bloom, but still standing at attention with their tawny seed casings like big buttons rattling in the wind. "Are you opposed to hunting?" she asked. We said we weren't, and she assured us that her family eats what they kill.
Inside was an astounding collection of mounted deer heads. It was quite interesting to see so much variation in the faces, and especially the antlers — each different in color and shape. I have only seen white tail deer from a great distance, where they all look the same. Here we were greeted with so many intelligent and individual faces.
This was almost a museum — beaver and coyote pelts, a red fox, a terrarium with box turtles (these alive, climbing around a tiny woodland). We continued our tour in a barn where we met Cricket, a miniature horse, and a goat who likes to climb. I even got to clamber up a steep stairway-ladder to a cupola and look out across the land in four directions.
Outside again, we saw at a distance more deer and then up close and curious, a peacock, who even treated us to a full display of his tail feathers. We walked out to a couple of peaceful ponds to see the huge nest of a swan and then the swan herself, and her cygnet, still a tawny gray color, but larger than the duck swimming beside him.
Our tour continued inside, where we met Sadie, a black Lab, who could be Ursula's sister (only Sadie's a good dog). Bonnie entertained us with stories of her historic house and showed us old family portraits and antiques and artwork, including some lovely quilts she had made, as well as some punched-tin designs by her father.
It was a charming visit, and our generous friend gave us parting gifts of sweet corn, a bouquet of peacock feathers, and hollyhock seeds. "Be careful where you put them," she said cheerfully. "Once you plant them, you'll never get rid of them."
On the way home I thought of that, mostly glad of what we have planted. Glad too, for our family outing at the end of our last summer with children. I thought of what my friend, Karen, told me when I asked her how she handled her own empty nest.
Karen told me that her home is now filled in different ways — with grandchildren visiting and family dinners. "I suspect a nest," she said, "like a loving heart, never stays empty long."
Plant in beauty; harvest peace; blessed be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She hopes to face her own empty nest with love and courage. You can read more about Birdland and see photos at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdlandgmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.